Ernestine Dilworth has a story to trumpet. Diagnosed with cancer, she decided to use no medication or surgery—to the dismay of her physicians, she chose prayer as her prescription. Months later, shocking her doctors, there was no sign of disease. A miracle of faith and healing had shifted her.
Ernestine returned to her job as a high school teacher and created a unique service from her home in Thunderbolt, Georgia. In a small room of her own, she conducted the work of the Soul Free Prayer Line.
“She had scriptures up on pieces of paper all over the walls,” Ernestine’s daughter remembers. “People would call, and she would pray with them.” Her mission was to pray for anyone in distress, anytime—day or night. “Sometimes she would sleep in that prayer room so she could answer the phone easily.” To her daughters’ chagrin, she went as far as to put a sign on their lawn (“Home of the Soul Free Prayer Line”) with their home phone number listed underneath.
People reached out to Ernestine so often for counseling and encouragement, she started a bible study group in her home. Bible study turned into a congregation. And the congregation grew to the point that Ernestine built an extra den onto the house, then the point of relocation.
Although her church was growing, she desired higher biblical learning for herself and her people. Her daughter recalls, “My mom would always say ‘God is going to send us a man’—she was specific—‘a young Black man to teach us the Word, line by line, verse by verse…’”
Ricky Temple graduated from LIFE Bible College in Los Angeles. Academically, he regards the experience with high esteem. “It’s where I learned to love learning,” he says. Traveling to preach to congregations in North Carolina, he realized that he wanted his own church. “I didn’t go to church as a kid. I didn’t like it, and my mom [Laura Temple] didn’t make me go. I liked God, kind of. So when I talk about anything—family, God, church—it comes from my heart.”
Ricky laid eyes on Diane Bryan, Ernestine's daughter, for the first time in her mother’s home at a Bible study. “I noticed her…but she came up to me after the study and introduced herself to me,” he says with an L.A. lilt. He told her he was a preacher man. “I told her about my work, my travels,” he continues, “and mentioned that I’d graduated from LIFE Bible College, how much I loved it…”
Bible college? Mom!
It seems Diane’s mother’s prophesy had turned into her congregation’s slightly amended prayer: A Black man to teach them the Bible who graduated from Bible college. Ricky nods. “Amazing, isn’t it?” Yes, as is the literal meaning of his surname.
“Diane was bad from the beginning,” her husband recalls of his love at age 20. “She was already a high school science teacher, and she had a red Firebird with tan interior! That’s not why I married her, but she had a bad ride!” Ricky exclaims, “And her mother loved me! I’m serious. Her mother said ‘Marry that guy!’ ”
Diane, a graduate of Armstrong Atlantic State University with a degree in biology, speaks of her mother sweetly and respectfully. “Oh, my mom! She went to Savannah State College. Met my dad on campus. Got married. Had three kids. Divorced.” Junior, Diane’s father, was a church boy, a musician and an unfaithfully fine playboy. That noted, “Ernestine didn’t deal well with surprises,” Diane adds.
After the divorce, Ernestine got her degree and remarried a Dilworth, a prominent family name in the jazz music history of Savannah. Observing the divorce in her family, Diane was in no rush to the altar. “I’ve seen people ignore all the signs,” she says. “Even if marriages stayed together, there was strife and confusion. Marrying Rick was a leap of faith too. I didn’t trust men. I looked at the mistakes of the women in my family, even my mom. I was determined not to do that.”
Like her mother’s scriptures, Diane Temple’s office walls are spirited by a collage of all the children in her church. A modern pastor’s wife, she doesn’t allow her title as First Lady to work her. Diane is too busy doing the work of Diane.
“I’m glad I’m not married to a guy who tries to put that label on me,” she says. “When other people try to do that to me, Rick will step in and say no. I love this ministry. Everything I do is a personal passion of mine. I can wear a T-shirt, jeans. I don’t have to wear a hat. I don’t know how to bake cakes or cookies. I don’t try to fit a mold. I’m just being Diane.”
“Diane is a gift,” says her husband. “Next to knowing Jesus Christ as my savior, knowing her has been the greatest thing in my life.” Married for over three decades, Ricky says their marriage is better today than when it started. “She’s so smart. You teach her something, she’ll beat you at it! I admire her.” Diane says, “After 31 years, I still love Rick! He’s my best friend. He’s my buddy, my hanging partner.”
Ernestine Dilworth’s ministry started in 1976; she passed the baton to her son-in-law in 1981. Overcoming by Faith makes reference to the “Total Family” in its ministry. Integral to Pastor Rick’s own story, he’s an advocate of generational support and progression: “I help my kids, they help their kids… it should work that way.”
The Temples have two children: Ricky Jr., or RJ (30), and Christina (25). RJ uses his music degree from Georgia Southern University and a degree from Berkeley in audio production as the musical director of Overcoming by Faith. A layered artist, he leads a band called RJ and The imagiNATION. RJ is also a game audio designer on the side, releasing over 25 game titles this past year (including an upcoming title featuring Shaquille O'Neal).
The newest member of their family is Monica, whom Ricky married in 2010 (10/10/10, to be exact). They met on eHarmony.com. “I was about to cancel my account! Customer service talked me into staying a little longer,” he laughs. A couple weeks later, he met Monica, a teacher living in Tennessee. “On our first date, we met in Atlanta. He took me to the aquarium, it was so much fun! I had no idea he was a PK [preacher’s kid], and certainly not on this level.” Monica works as the administrative assistant at Overcoming By Faith in Savannah, and graduates in May from Armstrong Atlantic State University with a degree in liberal arts studies.
Leading the youth ministry is Christina, also a graduate of Georgia Southern. Like her parents, she’s a captivating speaker. A beaming light, she makes Diane think of her own mother. “Christina has this anointing upon her that is so much like my mom, and they never met. She had no desire to go in this direction. It just happened upon her,” Diane says.
“People peg you a PK and think ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ By watching my parents, I know that you can administer the gospel and be exactly who you are.” RJ gives credence to Temple family wisdom: “We were taught to be ourselves and people will see God clearly.”
The Temples lead Overcoming by Faith in Savannah, and as of January 2012, The Church on the Way in Los Angeles as well. But calling them a 'church family' is to simplify them. Dr. Ricky Temple is a pastor, preacher, critical thinker, biblical scholar—many things, with a family of luminaries to match.
“We don’t want the ministry to define us,” he says. “That’s what tends to happen pastor’s families. ‘Pastor, preacher’s wife, preacher’s kids’—in a box! No. I believe that Ricky, Diane, Christina, RJ, now Monica, we are separate parts of a whole. We come together to do our own thing. Everyone is represented.” The total family.
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, "The Coolest Black Family” is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider that family does not always mean mother + father + kids. What we know is that what defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we criss-cross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love.
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 90's urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook.